Investigators find victim’s cigarette cause of house fire


The damage at 154 Underhill Ave. in West Harrison, pictured, was the result of an early morning fire inside a second-story apartment, which took the life of a female resident. Photo/Corey Baumer

An early morning fire on Aug. 13 at the Park Knoll apartment complex on Underhill Avenue in West Harrison took the life of a 61-year-old woman who investigators determined was the cause of the blaze after failing to put out her cigarette.

Firefighters responding to 911 calls arrived at 154 Underhill Ave. at approximately 5 a.m. to find heavy smoke emerging from an apartment on the top floor of a two story co-op. Responders on the scene quickly snuffed the blaze before it could do any further damage.

West Harrison Fire Chief Steve Mancini said the investigators with the Westchester County Cause and Origin team determined the fire originated from the woman’s couch, which caught fire from the smoldering embers of the victim’s cigarette butt, before starting to spread throughout the apartment.

“There was a lot of evidence to support these findings,” Mancini said. “An ashtray was found in the immediate vicinity…and several neighbors said she was normally seen smoking out of her kitchen window.”

David Amster, president of Prime Location Inc., a company that leases the property on Underhill Avenue, said he was informed that the fire emerged from apartment 2B and that the shareholder resident—who has been identified as Eileen Brubacher, according to several published reports—was killed in the blaze.

He added that the fire affected four of the building’s residential units and the apartments will remain empty while the damage is repaired.

“We’re doing our best,” Amster said. “Obviously, a number of residents will not be able to stay there for awhile.”

According to Amster, residents displaced from the incident in need of temporary housing elsewhere should contact their insurance carrier to determine where they can stay in the meantime.

Mike Daher, 28, a Park Knoll resident and owner of a neighboring co-op, said that, while he did not witness the incident, he was notified of the fire from the building superintendent, earlier that day.

“All the doors are busted in from the firefighters, so they’re going to put a new lock on the outer door until the inner ones can be fixed,” Daher said. “We were trying to sell, actually, so it’s going to have to be postponed until they clean this mess up.”

Additional calls to the Harrison Police Department were not returned as of press time.